There was something conspicuously absent from this year’s state of the province address: no self-absorbed stories about growing up on a farm in Portage la Prairie and no bizarre metaphors used to describe the need for government reform.
Premier Heather Stefanson delivered her inaugural state of the province address in front of a packed Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd Thursday. Like most of her predecessors, she used the occasion to give Manitobans an update on the economic and social health of the province and what to expect in 2022.
It was in stark contrast to the kind of unusual year-end speeches delivered by former premier Brian Pallister, which were filled mostly with dull, repetitive stories about himself and his childhood. Pallister’s frequent strolls down memory lane had nothing to do with the state of the province. He had an annoying habit of burdening large, captive audiences with long, uninteresting accounts of his life.
If he wasn’t retelling stories about how his mother was a teacher or how he used to be a union member, Pallister was dreaming up new metaphors to describe how he planned to revamp government, like ending the practice of "skipping out" on the coffee and fritters bill at Tim Hortons, a Pallister analogy for government deficits.
His favourite metaphor was the Penny-farthing bicycle, an "unbalanced" bike popularized in Britain in the late 1800s. The large wheel in the front symbolized "big government" and the small wheel in the back represented the private sector, he said during his 2019 address.
"It’s kind of like the government we inherited," Pallister said.
His job was to shrink the front wheel, he explained.
"You have to redesign it so it’s smaller," said Pallister. "It has to be smaller so it can move you towards balance."
The luncheon crowds didn’t always know what to make of Pallister’s strange orations, nor his off-colour comments, including a sexist remark he made during his 2017 speech about Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Johanna Hurme.
"I want to thank Johanna for dressing up," said Pallister. "I want to thank her for those heels. I notice they’re a foot high."
Thankfully those days are over.
Stefanson’s address was a more traditional state of the province speech, the kind delivered during the pre-Pallister years. Manitoba’s economy is projected to grow by 4.8 per cent in 2022, exports are up 9.2 per cent, and employment continues to climb, although there remains a severe labour shortage, Stefanson said. Like most former state of the province addresses, the premier reiterated most of her government’s major policy commitments, including tackling surgical and diagnostic testing backlogs and working towards solving the nursing shortage.
State of the province addresses have typically been one part reporting on the affairs of the province and two parts promoting government. Stefanson more or else delivered on both fronts.
There was no talk of Penny-farthing bicycles and no long-winded stories about her childhood.
Manitoba’s first female premier also offered a degree of humility when discussing leadership traits that was rare, if non-existent, during the Pallister years.
"I think leadership is about also recognizing that we’re human, we’re going to make mistakes and if we make mistakes, then just apologize and move on," she said. "We’re not always going to get things right."
Pallister set the bar pretty low during his final years in office; it won’t take much to improve on his record. Stefanson still has a way to go to prove her competency as first minister and whether she is worthy of re-election in 2023. So far, she’s off to a good start.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.